Lots of wineries knock out a second or third tier label. Often those tiers are good value, more often they are good quaffing wines, or your Friday night drinkers, but it’s rare that they are something that you would serve at a dinner party when you’re trying to impress the Father-in-Law to be for example. At the other end there’s the wineries that might stumble onto a good patch of fruit, from their own winery or from contract growers, knock out a good couple of vintages and then it all goes pear shaped for them.
Then there are the rare few that knock out great wines across all of the range, and do it year after year after year, despite issues with weather or fruit quality.
Giant Steps is one of those rare wineries that are able to impress over any of their range at any price, and do it time and again, continually knocking out award winning wines. A lot of their success comes down to the hard graft of founder Phil Sexton, and his winemaker Steve Flamsteed, both of whom have had long interesting careers, but have always gravitated back towards wine.
Phil Sexton started off his working life as a brewer at Swan Brewery in WA in 1981. That same year he started work on what would become his first winery, Devils Lair in WA’s Margaret River. Eventually Phil left Swan to concentrate on Devils Lair fulltime but the lure of good beer was too much, together with two mates he started Matilda Bay. In 1997 with both Devils Lair and Matilda Bay sold off, Phil finally found a suitable site in Victoria’s Yarra Valley, and the process of creating Giant Steps started soon after he added a second label, Innocent Bystander. He created the first vintage of Giant Steps in 2001, and Innocent Bystander came on the scene in 2004, and he also found time to start a new brewery based in WA called Little Creatures. Phil started to plan ahead, wanting to concentrate on creating single vineyard examples of his wines. Lion’s decision to purchase Little Creatures in 2012, and Brown Brothers 2016 purchase of Innocent Bystander has funded that progression.
Steve Flamsteed is the person that does all the wizardry with the wine, joining Phil in 2008 as Head Winemaker so that Phil could concentrate on running Giant Steps (and the associated empire at the time). I have a personal belief that winemakers that have had many different jobs and life experiences tend to make better wines, to that end Steve’s worked as a qualified chef, won a Queens Scholarship to study cheese making in France, then working as a cheesemaker on his return. He’s also been a ski instructor and most importantly, a winemaker. As a winemaker he has worked for Leeuwin Estate and the Hardy Wine Company, before moving to Giant Steps operation. These two guys literally have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to sheer talent, in fact he was named Winemaker of the Year in 2016. With Phil leading the winery’s direction and Steve knocking out wines they will continue on their multi-award winning way for many years to come.
Some of their best new releases:
Giant Steps Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2016 – a touch better than their classy 2015 chard, ripe stone fruits, some baked apple notes with honeycomb crumble. Citrus zest, some grapefruit and peach and green apple on the tongue, with just the lightest touches of toasty oatmeal and nutty oak, it’s been handled extremely well. RRP $35
Giant Steps Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2016 – at $35 RRP I would be expecting a lot, and it delivers in spades. Dry herbs, rainforest floor, some crushed dry leafy notes and a touch of beetroot leaf on the nose. Some bright crisp cherry notes on the tongue, followed through with dry herbs and some spicy brambly notes.
Giant Steps Lusatia Park Vineyard Chardonnay 2016 – probably not as good as their 2015 vintage, but it think this will evolve a lot in the bottle. There’s white peach and nectarine, crunchy pear and a touch of my old Nanna’s honey and spice oatmeal biscuits. RRP $45
Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard Chardonnay 2016 – a reserved and understated wine, its quite floral and pretty on the nose, touches of apple, citrus blossoms and nectarine, which follow through onto the tongue with a touch of flint, and a cashew nut creaminess to it, super easy drinking, lingering finish. Amazing how quick the glass empties. RRP $45.